If you’ve watched the 1995 movie, Apollo 13, about the botched 1970 lunar landing, you have heard this line. It was uttered by Ed Harris’ character, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director who is credited for helping guide the damaged craft safely back to earth. The line is great because it encapsulates determined leadership in the face of a crisis. It also captures the American dream that says if you work hard enough and think hard enough and believe hard enough you can succeed at anything.
But it’s a lie.
I don’t know about you, but I know several people who work hard, think hard and believe hard who have failed. Businesses go bankrupt. Churches close their doors. Ministries are abandoned despite Godly intentions and unbelievable work ethic. It seems that the American dream is just that, a dream.
In the face of this, what are we to do? Are we to abandon all hope? Do we quit trying out of a morbid fear of failure? Or, do we dare to contemplate that God just might be trying to teach us something?
Scripture is saturated with the stories of failures. Eve failed to control her temptation. Cain failed to control his jealousy. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob failed to not show favoritism to their children. Moses failed to keep his temper in check. David failed to keep a leash on his lust. Peter failed to keep his foot out of his mouth on multiple occasions. Yet, in the midst of this sea of failures, we find a Divine current working to shift, shape and mold these ‘failures’ into His image.
In some instances, it seems God actually leads people into failure purposefully. Take Joseph as an example. The latter chapters of Genesis find Joseph encountering road-block after road-block on his path to success. He fails in his relationship with his brothers and is sold into slavery. He is framed by his master’s wife for attempted rape and thrown into prison. He is forgotten by his fellow prisoners and is left without any glimmer of hope. If you didn’t know the end of the story and met Joseph at this point in his life, you might be tempted to label him a failure. But God was working to humble Joseph, to teach Joseph patience and to bestow upon Joseph wisdom. All three attributes, humility, patience, and wisdom, would serve Joseph well when he would become the second most powerful ruler in all of Egypt.
Or take the misfits that we affectionately refer to as the Apostles. All but one died as a result of their faith. In most cultures, being arrested and executed would be considered an epic fail. But not in God’s paradigm of success and failure. These men laid the foundation of the Church (and that foundation is Christ- see I Corinthians 3:10-11) and helped build up the bride of Christ through their life work.
I honestly believe that God calls us into periods of success and into periods of failure. Some may have more of one than the other. But what’s important is how we respond. Do we
bless seek God in the good times and seek bless Him in the hard times? Can we honestly say with Job, “The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”? (Job 1:21) Can we, like Paul, learn to be content in times of plenty and in times of want (see Philippians 4:10-13)?
Are you willing to fail if it brings glory to God?
I live as a testament to what God deems. Inexplicably to the human eye, my efforts succeed when failure was the only logical outcome, I fail when everything was going my way. Or so it has seemed. But I know that the most valuable lessons are experienced first hand and not just read from unmoving words. I watch as He provides whatever is needed in those darkest hours at times when others cannot see any hope at all. My God is a power, one of a kind, capable of all things. He knows what is needed and what must not be. He does hat He alone wills hen He has deemed it so. This doesn’t mean effort means nothing, of course.